Before I met my husband, I thought maybe you're just supposed to settle. Maybe you're just supposed to pick someone who has most of what you're looking for and you can tolerate being around. Then he came along and had everything I was looking for, and a lot more that I didn't even realize was important, like a fierce devotion to family. When Mom only had a few months left to live, it was his idea to move her and my father in with us. I never would have asked or expected that as a newlywed but he wouldn't have it any other way.
As we approach our sixth year married and eighth as a couple, I'm realizing that we are even more suited for each other than I originally realized, and thankful and blessed to have found him. One important quality that we both share is our love of animals, which has become more important lately with the addition of the two new puppies.
I can't imagine being married to someone who didn't want animals or worse yet, begrudgingly tolerated them. They enhance the quality of our life and our kids' lives so much and I'm thankful we made the leap of faith and got two instead of one. Its amazing; they are so happy and content being outside during the day with each other. They never cry or whine to get in, though we do bring them in for attention in the evening and lock them in the garage every night. We have started going on daily walks to the creek behind our house, and let them off-leash. They're starting to go in the water every time, venturing a bit further out.
We celebrated A's 4th birthday with a Frozen party, which I had been looking forward to for about a year. Anna and Elsa made an appearance, but the real hit of the party was the snow machine that our new neighbor friends let us borrow. We placed it up on the patio and set it to go on intermittently.
Riding the coat-tails of my soak-up every-moment epiphany, I decided not to be on my phone at all while I was in Oregon. I deleted the facebook and instagram apps. from my phone, and picked up Hands Free Mama: Letting Go... to Grasp What Really Matters. I bought this book a few months ago, and it could not have been more fitting. It was exactly what I needed to reinforce my commitment to be fully present with both my children.
To get an idea of what it's about, here is a blog posting that started it all: How to Miss a Childhood. I'm copying it here instead of just posting the link, so you'll be more inclined to read it. Although she is referring to technology distractions in this post, the book talks about any distraction that absorbs the majority of our time at home, such as the need to be super organized, clean or constantly on the go.
How to Miss a ChildhoodBy sharing my own painful truths when it comes to the distractions of the modern age, I have gained an unexpected insight. In the 18 months this blog has existed, I have been privy to a new distraction confession every single day.
Up until now, I never knew what to do with this unusual collection of painful admissions from an overly connected society. But today, in a moment of clarity, I knew. And a woman with 35 years experience as a day care provider held the key.
It came as a message in my inbox after the woman read my post “The Children Have Spoken” which included heart-breaking observations from children themselves about their parents’ excessive phone use.
As soon as I read the first sentence of the caregiver’s email, I knew this message was different than any I had ever received. The hairs on my arms stood up as I absorbed each word that came uncomfortably close to home.
It was a voice of heartache, wisdom, and urgency speaking directly to the parents of the 21st century:
“I can recall a time when you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back and forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, ‘Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.’ Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really. When I see you pick up your kids at day care while you’re on the phone, it breaks my heart. They hear your adult conversations. What do they overhear? What is the message they receive? I am not important; I am not important.”In a 100-word paragraph this concerned woman who has cared for babies since 1977 revealed a disturbing recipe … How to Miss a Childhood.
And because I possess hundreds of distraction confessions, including stories from my own former highly distracted life, I have all the damaging ingredients.
All it takes is one child and one phone and this tragic recipe can be yours.
How to Miss a Childhood
*Keep your phone turned on at all times of the day. Allow the rings, beeps, and buzzes to interrupt your child mid-sentence; always let the caller take priority.
*Carry your phone around so much that when you happen to leave it in one room your child will come running with it proudly in hand—treating it more like a much needed breathing apparatus than a communication device.
*Decide the app you’re playing is more important than throwing the ball in the yard with your kids. Even better, yell at them to leave you alone while you play your game.
*Take your children to the zoo and spend so much time on your phone that your child looks longingly at the mother who is engaged with her children and wishes she was with her instead.
*While you wait for the server to bring your food or the movie to start, get out your phone and stare at it despite the fact your child sits inches away longing for you talk to him.
*Go to your child’s sporting event and look up periodically from your phone thinking she won’t notice that you are not fully focused on her game.
*Check your phone first thing in the morning … even before you kiss, hug, or greet the people in your family.
*Neglect daily rituals like tucking your child into bed or nightly dinner conversation because you are too busy with your online activity.
*Don’t look up from your phone when your child speaks to you or just reply with an “uh huh” so she thinks you were listening.
*Lose your temper with your child when he “bothers” you while you are interacting with your hand-held electronic device.
*Give an exasperated sigh when your child asks you to push her on the swing. Can’t she see you’re busy?
*Use drive time to call other people regardless of the fact you could be talking to your kids about their day—or about their worries, their fears, or their dreams.
*Read email and text messages at stoplights. Then tell yourself that when your kids are old enough to drive they won’t remember you did this all the time.
*Have the phone to your ear when she gets in or out of the car. Convince yourself a loving hello or goodbye is highly overrated.
Follow this recipe and you will have:
• Missed opportunities for human connection
• Fewer chances to create beautiful memories
• Lack of connection to the people most precious to you
• Inability to really know your children and them unable to know you
• Overwhelming regret
If you find this recipe difficult to read—if you find that you have tears in your eyes, I thank you, and your child thanks you.
It is not easy to consider the possibility that the distractions of the modern age have taken an undeserved priority over the people who matter in your life. In fact, when I admitted this difficult truth to myself almost two years ago, I experienced an emotional breakdown. However, that breakdown became a breakthrough that propelled me to begin my life-changing “Hands Free” journey.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to follow the above recipe. Yes, it is the 21st century. Yes, the whole world is online. Yes, the communications for your job are important. Yes, at times you must be readily available. But despite all those factors, you do not have to sacrifice your child’s childhood; nor do you have to sacrifice your life.
May I recommend this recipe instead?
How to Grasp a Childhood:
Look into her eyes when she speaks to you … Your uninterrupted gaze is love to your child.
Take time to be with him—really be with him by giving your full attention … The gift of your total presence is love to your child
Hold her hand, rub his back, listen to her heart beat, and smooth his hair … Your gentle touch is love to your child.
Greet her like you missed her when she was not in your presence … Seeing your face light up when you see her is love to your child.
Play with him … Your involvement in his activities is love to your child.
Create a distraction-free daily ritual … Consistently making him a priority each day is love to your child.
Focus and smile at her from the stands, sidelines, or the audience … Seeing the joy on your face as you watch is love to your child.
The recipe for “How to Grasp a Childhood” requires only one thing: You must put down your phone. Whether it is for ten minutes, two hours, or an entire Saturday, beautiful human connection, memory making, and parent-child bonding can occur every single time you let go of distraction to grasp what really matters.
The beautiful, life-changing results of your “Hands Free” action can start today … right now … the moment you put down the phone.
My life changed the day I stopped justifying my highly distracted life and admitted I was missing precious moments that I would never retrieve. I imagined my daughter standing on the stage of her high school graduation and asked myself: When she is 18 years old, will I wish I had spent more time on my phone/work/social life? Or will I wish I had spent more time investing in her?
The answer was simple.
My hope is that this post inspires one person to become aware of how often he or she uses the phone (or computer) in the presence of a child.
*If you are interested in the impact this post had on those who read it, please read “How to Miss a Childhood: Update.”
*For tips about letting go of distraction to connect with the people you love please join “The Hands Free Revolution.” We are a growing community striving to grasp “the moments that matter” in life.
This one small change of not having my phone with me transformed our time together in Oregon. By leaving my phone inside each morning as we headed out on a Gator ride, I didn't have a way to check the time of day. And I realized that it didn't really matter. "Want to stop and go in the water?" I would ask, knowing she would say yes. We stayed there until she was ready to go, and then I asked her what she would like to do next. She usually had an idea but if not, I would present her with a few choices, like feed the swans, give pony a carrot or go in the canoe.
Also, not having my phone resulted in a whole lot less pictures being taken because what's the point of taking adorable photos if you're not going to post them anywhere? Instead, I tried to form a snapshot of her mannerisms and smile and commit to memory all of the mispronunciations that I will miss, like "fee" instead of "three" or "hanitizer" instead of hand sanitizer. I must confess that I did cave after 7 days instead of 10, and haven't finished the book just yet. But it has already impacted our relationship greatly. The days were long up there, in a good way.
I did some gardening, running and worked with the rescue pony Butterscotch. We brought a trainer to the property to teach me how to train her. She confirmed what we had suspected: Butterscotch is a sweet, tender animal that lacks any training. I was able to start giving her simple commands and leading her around with the harness, and also cinch a saddle on her. I can't wait to return in July and pick up where we left off.
Now that we're back home, I'm on my phone a lot less. The book isn't about not having our distractions, but carving out some time each day where we completely put them down and are fully in the moment with our child(ren) instead of multi-tasking. I continue to make time to play with her a few times each day and when she knows I will be joining her, she does better playing independently for longer periods of time.
I look at time spent in waiting rooms or in the car as an opportunity to connect instead of just time to pass. I'm giving her iPad time every other day instead of every day, and we've cut back on TV time too.
Before we left for Oregon, Baby C was starting to crawl. Once we returned, be was much faster and proficient, so I put up a safety gate at the top of the stairs. He is still doing an army crawly, but is surprisingly speedy! He also had two bottom teeth come in while we were there. They must have been there for a day or two before I noticed. I was feeding him some bread and felt them. Thinking it was only one, I exclaimed "You have two teeth!" and then looked to A "He has two teeth!" Looking back at C, his bottom lip started quivering and then he burst out crying. I think my enthusiasm was a bit much for him.
The variety of food has also changed. Before we left for Oregon, he was mostly having different types of baby food fruit or veggies mixed with baby oatmeal. I would give him toast. Now, he's had: Scrambled eggs, avocado, blackberries, spaghetti, ground turkey, Eggo waffles, bananas, enchiladas, chicken alfredo, pancakes and a small amount of cake and ice cream.